28 June 2013
Britain is set to become the first country in the world to allow babies to be created using the DNA of three people, after the government backed a controversial new IVF technique.
Innovative IVF-based techniques could be made available to patients to help prevent serious mitochondrial disease in the UK, under plans announced by the country's chief medical officer, professor Dame Sally Davies.
One in 6,500 babies is born with mitochondrial disorder which can lead to serious problems such as heart and liver disease, respiratory problems. It can also cause death in infants.
Around 12,000 people in the UK live with these conditions, which are passed on from mother to baby, However they can be prevented using cutting edge mitochondrial replacement techniques.
The government will publish draft regulations later this year which would make the UK the first country in the world to give patients the option of using the ground-breaking IVF-based fertility treatment.
Professor Davies said: "Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them. It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can."
The technique was developed at Newcastle University. Doug Turnbull, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at the university and one of the leading pioneers, called it excellent news for families with mitochondrial disease.
"This will give women who carry these diseased genes more reproductive choice and the opportunity to have children free of mitochondrial disease. I am very grateful to all those who have supported this work," he explained.
Mary Herbert, professor of reproductive biology at Newcastle University and another of the leading researchers behind the technique, says it offers "the possibility of greatly reducing the risk to children of affected women".
She added; "We are in the fortunate position of having substantial Wellcome Trust funding to continue to refine the techniques and to optimise their safety and efficacy.
"We have made good progress in optimising the pronuclear transfer technique and will continue to need a supply of healthy eggs to perform further tests on the safety of the technique. Obviously, the timescale will depend on the outcome of those tests."
However, it would mean babies are born with the DNA of three people, raising a number of ethical issues. Dr David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, told the BBC that it would lead to the creation of a "eugenic designer baby market".
Mitochondria are tiny biological "power packs" that give energy to nearly every cell of the body. Defects can leave the body cells starved of energy, resulting in muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death in the most extreme cases.
Mitochondria replacement involves transferring nuclear genetic material from a mother’s egg or embryo into a donor egg or embryo that has had its nuclear DNA removed so the embryo does not inherit the mitochondrial disease. This would allow a woman carrying mitochondrial diseases to have healthy children.
Posted by Edward Bartel
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